Ela stuck her head out the front door and stepped into a caricature of the morning. It was raining ribbons, long blue streamers swirling in the high-strung wind. Plump water balloons smashed onto the sullen pavement. The pines bristled like dogs shaking off their fur. The forest smelled fecund. A rainbow swung itself out between the clouds like an overeager aunt with gossip to share. Ela surmised it was going to be the kind of Monday peculiarised by excess. The kind that urged you to avoid people, sensing which they would most doggedly seek you out. That reminded her of something she needed urgently.

She slipped back in and emerged with her earbuds encased like pearls in her palm and slipped them into her ears. She took a moment to smooth down her windswept bob even though the strands kept whipping around. Ela shook out her umbrella with one hand and clicked the gate shut behind her with the other, tucking in her collapsing hold-all out of the reach of the rain under her arms. She reached into her coat pocket and, dropping her phone there, swiped on the radio app and tapped it. The beeping signature tune began transmitting, an indicator that the 9 am bulletin was about to begin. She found it reassuring. Then, she stepped into the stream of workers heading towards the town’s bus stand in the heart of the market, around a 15-minute walk to the west.

Ela was not a music person. She was soothed by the drone of the news anchor. He at least seemed to know exactly where everything was headed, even when politicians and protestors did not. His voice was like a pacifier, a quirk she inherited from her father, whose head had only ever bowed before the broadcast. She had learned to tune into it when her parents fought in the living room. The louder their voices went, the higher she turned up the radio. In the end, it drowned everything else out; only the transmission prevailed.

Perhaps she sought a connection with her father, which she wished she had, in the even keel of the modulated voice. Contained within the measured tone of the news anchor, the nation seemed more at peace than most marriages. The collective panic played out to its metronome – assassinations, celebrity scandals, economic ruin, prison breaks, communal riots, and political feuds alike – all rendered dispassionately equal and objectively distant. The conductor’s baton on the wave of which the concert of concerns arose and ended. The anchor’s remarks tied her day together no matter where she heard it. It rendered each day reliably unremarkable. Ela liked to know what happened, but she liked to also know that it didn’t matter that anything had. Tomorrow, she was assured, would be the same. Another bulletin, another set of highlights, and life would go on.

You are listening to the 9 o’clock bulletin and this is your host Oscar Swami,” the relay began. Election dates had been announced. They were predicting an anti-incumbency wave. Reliance had announced a bumper dividend. The economy was booming and ...“This just in, we have news that a woman has been found dead under suspicious circumstances in the hill town of Beri Shola.”

The rain continued to fall, the trees to tremble, the people to flow past, but Ela froze like a deer who senses a tiger in the grass. An officegoer walking behind her clicked his tongue as he went past, annoyed at the abrupt blockade. There was an etiquette to it all, didn’t she know?

Striking at the very heart of the hill town itself, the flamboyant socialite Rose has been found dead in her home, the century-old Rose Cottage in Beri Shola this morning. We have no official confirmation yet, but our well-placed sources have it she was reportedly stabbed several times in what can only be described as a brutal assault. The incident has sent shock waves through the close-knit community. She was discovered by her gardener, Jeiraj, who we hear at the time was standing just between the hydrangea rows and reaching to prune the grandiflora. Convenient testimony or could the gardener in fact have something to hide? Some of you might remember Rose as the widow of the former political aide and South Block insider, Neel, who passed away – some would say under mysterious circumstances – last year. Rose was once a journalist herself and the daughter of the powerful industrialist and the power-broker once known in Delhi’s political circles as Akela. Is there more than meets the eye here, in the consecutive deaths of this well-connected couple? Is the gardener just a foil for the more nefarious goings-on at Beri Shola? More on that as we get more details. Rose was an avid gardener and known for her prize-winning roses at the annual flower show. Police personnel stated that they have no clear evidence at this point, but investigations are ongoing. We will bring you updates on that developing story.

The news anchor moved on. “Are social media companies akin to God? A popular actor had been banned because of their noxious posts.

Ela waited, the rain splashing on her shoes, but there was nothing more about the murder, for now. It was a footnote in an otherwise packed report of more important national happenings. A social distancing divider – that thing they insert to separate the political news from the celebrity scandal. Her death valuable only because her husband once held the public office. A filler, a collagen injection to the cheek of the news. Most people would have missed it. Ela hadn’t.

If she tilted her head back and let the rain stream down her face, she could peer up at the mountainside. There. She could see it. She had passed the signboard every day on her way to work. At the end of the winding path that met the gate just to the right of where she was standing. A century-old stone house half obscured by the descending clouds now, its distinct tuberoses waving in the wind: Rose Cottage. It remained the most sought-after property in the Beri Shola market. Its wide sunroom extension came with a sweeping view of the undulating hills of Atvampatti, down to the Palani Plains. Terraces of carefully maintained rose gardens, its colourful history, its lingering ghosts and legends of duels fought for control of the property abounded. Brokers had pleaded with Rose amma, as she was called, to put the house up for sale for years now. It had been a token of love from her husband – modernised and designed carefully down to the last trellis when they moved in here. If she may have been inclined to sell earlier, after his passing, nothing could persuade her to even consider it. Now, the municipality would have to take charge of the house. Rose and Neel had no children or known next of kin. Which meant the house would lie locked up and run to ruin for years until the municipality set it up for auction. What a waste of old wood, a lofty view, and a prize patch.

Ela felt guilty for thinking about the property at a time like this.

The idiotic rainbow was at it again, sweeping up behind it, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding below. Ela felt herself shiver, and it was not because of the cold or the wet. The sun winked as it emerged from behind a cloud and Ela was certain it was mocking her.

Excerpted with permission from Ela’s Unfinished Business, Gayatri, HarperCollins India.